During 2019 one of my goals was to track the number of books that I read over the course of the year. I didn’t have a set goal, but had the figure of 100 books in 365 days in mind. It wasn’t a race, and I didn’t pad the numbers by reading shorter books, I just carried on the way that I normally do. In the past I have estimated that I read 70-80 books a year, it turns out that maybe I was underestimating since I hit 100 books by the end of October, and have already moved past that. Here are some things that I have learned.
Variety is necessary. For years I read exclusively non fiction, I was boring. Even among non fiction I tended toward more fact driven rather than narrative driven, it was about the information rather than the story. Everything I did was one sided, this year I managed to find a good balance. I will typically be working on 3-4 books at a time. One will be on a topic that I am interested and can be long and dry, one will be non fiction that is well written or by an author who’s work I enjoy, and then the others are either fiction that I can fly through or really hard topics that need to be taken a few pages at a time. By cycling through these different types of books I am able to keep myself balanced and don’t get overwhelmed or excessively bored. It turns out that variety truly is the spice of life.
Find subjects or authors that interest you, and read everything that you can. I didn’t read Vonnegut until I was 32 but I am almost done with everything he has written, I just got to the LOTR books this year, I’ve finally read all the Jack Reacher novels. On the nonfiction side I have become super interested in behavioral psychology and behavioral economics and have read so many books that have referenced either Danny Kahneman or Michaly Csikszentmihalyi (including books by both of them) that I can actually pronounce Csikszentmihalyi (chick-sent-me-high). Sometimes this gets repetitive, other times it allows me get deeper and deeper into something that interests me.
Availability is key. This year I started incorporating kindle books into my repertoire which increases my output since they are so extremely portable. I have always had stacks of books on my night table, coffee table, in the back of my car, but now I can even read on my phone. When I went to Alaska in June I brought 5 books with me, finished 4 of them, bought 2 new ones and lugged an unnecessary weight around. Now that I have a kindle I can bring thousands of books wherever I go on a device smaller than the palm pilot that I had in college, yes I am old and a nerd. I am and will always be a paper books person, and if you see me reading it will mostly be on paper, but having a kindle has changed the game a lot.
Know what to buy and when. I have 3 ways I obtain books. The first is the most boring, I buy new releases from Amazon or from my local book store. This has become rarer and rarer this year, but I still do occasionally make purchases. If I listen to a podcast and the host releases a book I buy it to help support the content that they create, if there is a writer who’s work I really enjoy I buy their new release to get them on the best seller list, and if there is a book that captures my attention and I think that it will be something that I reread then it is worth the investment. The second way to get books is my favorite, when I am on vacation I visit Goodwill stores and buy anything that pops out at me, you can learn a lot about a community by the books that they donate. I give myself a twice yearly binge at the local Goodwills because if not then I would be there every week buying up more books than I can handle. This keeps my shelves full for cheap and gives me the release valve of making impulse purchases. The last way is something that I stumbled on early this year, my town has this thing called a library, and it is like a Blockbuster for books, and they link to this thing online where you can borrow kindle books (book Netflix). It is pretty cool and very cheap, I am glad that I stumbled upon this new and exciting technology.
Get rid of them when you are done. Once I finish a book, if it is not something that really hit home it needs to go. I routinely sell my discards to the local bookshop and make donations to Goodwill. This keeps me from living in a place that is just stacks of books everywhere. There are occasions when I wish that I still had a book to reread, but if it was that important then it is worth the investment of a few bucks to get it back. I try not to pass off books to my friends, I am occasionally guilty, but I feel like I am assigning homework.
If you aren’t feeling it then quit. I have always struggled with quitting books, but I have gotten better. If I am 10% through the book and it is not doing it for me I evaluate whether to set it down until I am in a more suitable mindset or to quit entirely. Reading should be fun, not a slog that you are just trying to get through. There are a few books that I have quit on that I see from time to time and get the pang of regret for not finishing them, if so I can pick them up and start again.
The biggest thing I have learned is that if you want to read like crazy it helps to be underemployed. I often have more free time and less money than I have had for years and books are a cheap way to fill that hole. I also have a schedule that is all over the place so that I can devote weird blocks of time to reading that I normally wouldn’t have been able to.
My biggest mistake may have been doing too much. I didn’t push myself to read faster in order to get to 100, but I think that it happened too fast. I didn’t give myself enough time to process what I learned and things got jumbled. I would close a book and immediately reach for the next one, not letting things sink in, probably to my detriment. I sometimes get a thought in my head and have to track back to remember where I read it and who originally said it. Oh well, I guess that means that there are more rereads in my future.
Best of 2019
- Hardest to Read- Better Angels of Our Nature by Pinker
- Best Read- Grit by Duckworth or The Power of Habit by Duhigg
- Best Fiction- The Alchemist by Coelho
- Longest- About Face by Hackworth (875 pages)
- Most Impact- The Elephant in the Room by Tomlinson
- Best Written- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Murakami
- Most Recommended to Others- Nomadland by Bruder
- Biggest Disappointment- Nudge by Thayler/Sunstein
- Most Nostalgic- Starship Troopers by Heinlein
- Worst Book- Lobotomy by Dee Dee Ramone